Roche Trims Four Early Assets as Q1 Sales Slip 6% on Currency, COVID Headwinds

Roche China_iStock, Robert Way

Pictured: Roche's building in Shanghai, China/iStock, Robert Way

Roche released its first-quarter 2024 earnings results on Wednesday posting a 6% decline in sales compared to the same prior year period, as the company continued to be weighed down by weak demand for COVID-19 products and currency headwinds while narrowly beating analysts’ expectations.

In the first quarter of 2024, the pharma group’s sales brought in around $15.79 billion, down from its Q1 2023 earnings of approximately $16.78 billion. The performance of Roche’s pharmaceuticals division likewise slowed by 6% in the quarter, with its sales falling to $11.96 billion from $12.71 billion in the same period last year.

CEO Thomas Schinecker in a statement attributed the decline to the ongoing contraction of the COVID-19 market and to the “appreciation of the Swiss franc versus most currencies,” which in turn had a significant adverse impact on the group’s sales reported in Swiss francs. At constant exchange rates, Roche’s earnings grew by 2%. Excluding pandemic-related products, sales increased by 7%.

“After this quarter, the COVID-19-related impact on sales is largely behind us,” Schinecker added.

The eye treatment Vabysmo (faricimab-svoa) emerged as Roche’s strongest growth driver, bringing in $927.4 million in Q1, a 108% increase compared with the same period in 2023 while beating the analyst consensus. Vabysmo was first approved in February 2022 for wet age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macular edema. The drug picked up another approval in October 2023 for retinal vein occlusion.

The blood cancer therapy Polivy (polatuzumab vedotin-piiq) and breast cancer medicine Phesgo (pertuzumab/trastuzumab/hyaluronidase-zzfx) were also strong growth contributors in Q1. These assets brought in $424 million and $273 million, respectively, representing sales increases of 70% and 81%.

Roche’s top-performing asset was Ocrevus which secured $1.82 billion in Q1, representing 8% growth from the same time period in 2023.

As for its pipeline, the pharma group disclosed in Wednesday’s earnings presentation that it had discontinued the development of four early-stage assets including camonsertinib—which was being trialed in solid tumors—and belvarafenib, which was likewise being assessed for solid tumors in combination with Genentech’s Cotellic (cobimetinib). Roche also terminated two new molecular candidates—one for colorectal cancer and one for psychiatric disorders.

Looking forward to the rest of the year, Roche reaffirmed its 2024 outlook and noted in its statement that the company expects a sales increase in the mid-single digit range at constant exchange rates.

To meet its forecast, Roche has several milestones lined up including a potential U.S. and European Union approval for crovalimab in paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria and for subcutaneous Ocrevus in relapsing or primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

The pharma group is also preparing for key readouts for the Phase III VERONA study of Venclexta plus azacitidine in first-line myelodysplastic syndrome, as well as the Phase IIb PADOVA trial of prasinezumab in Parkinson’s disease.

Tristan Manalac is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. Reach out to him on LinkedIn or email him at tristan@tristanmanalac.com or tristan.manalac@biospace.com.

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